using kanban for aligning strategy to execution - kanban zone

Creating a strategy can be challenging, especially if you are dealing with conflicting priorities. Yet, developing a strategy that aligns the strategic objectives with their corresponding project and product-level execution is crucial for any organization that wants to ensure effective resource allocation and positive business results.

Yet, to be effective and achieve business and market goals, businesses need to get the teams’ work in tune with the overall strategic goals. So how can leaders create a successful strategy that makes sense for people at every business level? And how can they ensure execution that maximizes the organization’s efficiency?

Kanban: Flexible and Scalable

Today’s markets are evolving and changing fast. As a result, companies are dealing with more situations that are uncertain. Which forces them to re-evaluate their goals, and rearrange their priorities. Making it challenging to align the daily activities and strategic initiatives with the changing objectives.

The traditional strategic planning approaches suggest generating a thorough list of strategic initiatives, connected with their budgets and detailed plans. This type of execution implies the way forward is clear and the only variable is how efficiently you get the work done. And it’s effective if you are doing something you’ve done before and performing repetitive work in a stable environment. But in today’s business world, this concept of straightforward execution is most likely to fail.

So companies need to find a way to a new, more efficient way of aligning strategy to execution. One tool that supports looking at the bigger picture, while focusing on daily work, and easily adapting the workflow to the changing market and business objectives as you move forward is Kanban.

From Planning to Execution

To easiest way to achieve the proper breakdown of the work and ensure your execution and strategy are perfectly aligned is to think of your work in terms of hierarchical breakdown structure. Remember that as you create the hierarchy of work, you are actually defining the execution steps from a top-down perspective. But when you do this, don’t think of single tasks, but think of scope breakdown.

The elements in your hierarchical work breakdown can be called Initiatives, Programs, and Projects. Or Themes, Epics, and User Stories (if you are more Agile/Scrum oriented). Whatever you call them, is up to you. The important thing is to clearly define the biggest chunks of scope, the manageable pieces of scope, and the deliverables on a regular basis.

But how can using Kanban help you do this and align strategy to execution?

using kanban for aligning strategy to execution - kanban zone

Divide Work To Conquer Your Goals

Well, we already know that Kanban can be applied to any process at any level of the organization. You can use it to manage the day-to-day work of smaller teams or a complex strategic portfolio. Furthermore, Kanban suggests you take a look at the big picture and define your process steps. Then, break down the work so that (ideally) each card represents one task.

Portfolio Kanban - Reduce Overburden - Improve Flow

We also know that you can use Kanban on multiple levels across the organization. Meaning you can translate your hierarchical work breakdown structure into [connected] Kanban boards by branching out and visualizing each bigger program/project/initiative on a separate Kanban board. That way, you’ll ensure the hierarchy is clearly and transparently displayed. Thus, helping teams understand how day-to-day tasks fit in the bigger picture.

This approach serves two main purposes:

  1. It provides a fast and simple way to define, breakdown, and manage work, both in the upstream and downstream processes. When the boards reflect any changes in the workflow, regardless of the level they originate from, they provide context and help team members make the right decisions each day.
  2. By simply linking different cards and their respective boards, it ensures work at any level is aligned to a higher level strategic or tactical objective. This way, team members can move to higher- or lower-level boards to get a better perspective of the work that needs to be done, how it ties into the organizational objectives, and stay focused on what matters the most while preventing waste of resources on non-goals.

Another important thing to remember when creating linked Kanban boards and linking Kanban cards is that at each organizational level, different departments and teams should be responsible for the work breakdown and management of their own Kanban boards. Regardless of the type of work, managers cannot and should not be involved in micro-level decisions. They should only provide the right information and working environment to encourage individuals to create the most efficient workflow and act in the best interest of the overall goals.

Ensuring Complete Alignment

Keep in mind that connecting the overall strategy to day-to-day work is a two-way process that does not end with your work break down and board creation. Occasionally, you need to have a top-down look and check whether boundaries and teams’ focus areas are still in place. The focus areas should be derived from the business plan and overarching business strategy.

They should also be accompanied by clearly defined and measurable end goals. Then, looking bottom-up, you need to ensure individuals understand their work, and how and to which goals and objectives the tasks they perform contribute to.

If there are any misunderstandings about what should be done and why, there might be a lack of focus or a misalignment of the goals. Either way, you should go back to the Kanban boards and adjust them accordingly.

In summary, when using multiple Kanban boards to manage workflow and align strategy to execution, you create a visual aid for the organization’s employees on every level that helps them understand why all of you are doing what you’re doing. And ensures work gets done in the right order, at the right time, and gets the right amount of attention.

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About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.